Category Archive: Articles

Apr 19

What to Expect from Biblical Counseling, Pt 2

What to Expect from Biblical Counseling (part two)

Biblical Counseling: What to Expect, which was written to acquaint those who are considering biblical counseling by explaining some of the key elements of the process and to offer them hope that no matter what their problem, Jesus Christ has a solution.  In this article I would like to cover two more of the dozen expectations you may read about in the booklet.

You should expect to see good results from biblical counseling

No matter how difficult your struggle might be, you should have hope that, if you are in Christ, you can change.[1]You should expect to see results because, as a Christian, all the conditions for you to change have been met by God. Of course, if you expect God to bless you, you must be willing to do what the Bible says you, as a Christian, ought to do.

To begin with, you are a renewed person—someone who has been regenerated (quickened) by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God actually liveswithin you, making you capable not only of change, but (as I have just said), of changing in ways that please God. You are able to develop “proven character” (which brings about hope) because the love of God has been poured out within your heart through the Holy Spirit who was given to you (cf. Romans 5:4–6).

Then, there is the fact that you (not to mention your counselor) have been given the sufficient Word of God which contains everything you need for life and godliness (cf. 2 Peter 1:3). “The law of the LORD is perfect (complete), restoring the soul” (Psalm 19:7). The Spirit, working through the Word, is the means that God has ordained to bring about lasting change in the hearts and lives of His people. (I will say more about this in a moment.)

And, if that’s not enough, now you also have a counselor who will, presumably be ministering to you through the Word in the power of the Spirit. As a fellow member of the body of Christ, he is a vital part of the hope you should have as you consider the abundant resources God has given you to change. The Bible says that we, as Spirit-filled believers, are all “competent to counsel” one another (Romans 15:14).

Let’s zoom out a bit to consider one last item that virtually all earnest obedientChristian counselees have going for them. The big umbrella under which a Spirit-filled biblical counselor operates is the local church. The local church is a vital part of the process of change. It provides, among other things, biblical teaching, opportunities for corporate worship, loving Christian fellowship, The Lord’s Table, accountability, a variety of role models, prayer support, and church discipline. All of these things contribute greatly to every believer’s sanctification (the transformation into the image of Christ). If you are not regularly attending a Bible-teaching church, your counselor will be encouraging you to do so.

You should expect to gain an eternal perspective about your problem

Your counselor will do his best to help you solve the temporal problem that compelled you to seek his help in first place. But he is obligated to do more than that. He is going to offer you something more than you may have asked for. He is going to help you learn to live in light of eternity. That is, he is going to help you interpret and respond to the problems you face with a view toward heaven—your ultimate home where there will be no problems because you (and everyone around you) will be perfect.

Don’t worry. Your counselor is not going to minimize your problems or somehow spiritualize them by focusing all your attention on “the great by and by.” He really will help you deal with the actual, tangible issues you face in “the nasty now and now”—and he will do so with great specificity and in very concrete terms. It’s just that he knows that because, as followers of Jesus Christ, we don’t live for this life but for the next one, he will want to keep you from placing all of your trust in temporal things (things that can be taken away or destroyed). He will want to help you avoid the misery that comes from placing too much value in the things of this life and not enough on the things of the next one.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

Present suffering, if experienced as a result (for the sake) of righteousness, will result in eternal rewards and happiness (cf. Matthew 5:10; 1 Peter 3:14). Your counselor knows that the present cost of being faithful and obedient to Christ will be immeasurably repaid throughout eternity. Not all marriages will be restored, not all of the people in our lives will stop causing us some measure of daily misery, not all of our own struggles with sin will be eradicated in this life, not all of our circumstances will improve as we wish they would because we live this life in a world filled with sin. Your counselor will do his best to refocus your attention on Christ and the glory you will share with Him in heaven. This eternal perspective will give you lasting hope.

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:13).

So you should expect your counselor to challenge you, in one way or another, to joyfully endure whatever life-long suffering God may choose for you in light of the great eternal hope Christ has set before you as laid out in His Word.

I would like to leave you with one final thought. Please keep in mind that your counselor has many tasks to perform while he is counseling you. He or she must be able to accomplish several things in any given session. Consequently, he may not be able to do all that he would like in any given session. In fact, there may be times when he is so concerned about one part of your problem that he will be temporarily distracted from (or lose sight of) his overall counseling agenda. For that reason, if you believe he is failing to do what has been outlined in this booklet or is not meeting some other expectation that you have, please tell him. He is a fellow sinner, and although he has been trained, he is not immune to the noetic effects of the Fall (the effects of sin on one’s mind). He may need your help, on occasion, as much as you need his.


[1]Or, find an answer to your dilemma. Some people come for counseling not because they need to change their thinking or behavior, but simply because they need to make wise decisions about a particular course of action they must take.

Buy from Amazon for $4.99

Buy from Nouthetic Media for $4.50

Feb 08

What to Expect from Biblical Counseling, Pt 1

What to Expect from Biblical Counseling (part one)

My latest title, Biblical Counseling: What to Expect, was written to acquaint counselees with (and prepare them for) entering into the counseling process. This article (and the ones that follow) has been taken (or adapted) from that booklet.

True biblical counseling should reflect the Scriptures at every point (major and minor). That means that every bit of advice you get from your counselor, should have solid biblical support. At any point in the process, you may stop and ask him to explain the biblical basis for his counsel. (Of course, he will likely make every effort to explain the theology behind any direction he gives before you ask.)

It’s not that everything your counselor tells you will be based on a biblical directive (imperative / command), but there should be a firm biblical principle behind everything he or she says. You see, a problem cannot be solved biblically until it is diagnosed in biblical terms. Then, and only then, will your counselor be able to take you to those portions of Scripture that address the solution.

This series of articles (and the booklet from which they have been taken) has been written to introduce you to some of the key elements of the counseling process and to offer you hope that no matter what your problem, Jesus Christ has a solution. So let’s jump in and consider a couple of things you might anticipate as you take your journey down the path of biblical counseling.

You should expect to experience biblical love and compassion.

As the Apostle Paul wrote Timothy: “… the goal of our instruction is love, from a pure heart, and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5, NASB). A truly biblical counselor is not ultimately seeking his own gain (either by way of exorbitant fees or public acclaim). Rather, he reflects the heart of Jesus, who was moved with compassion to help those in need (Matt. 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 20:34; Luke 7:13). Jesus wept over sin and its consequences (Luke 19:41-42; John 11:34-38), as should all of us whose affections are aligned with His.

This type of biblical love and compassion also includes speaking the truth in love. Far from avoiding issues of sin, Jesus and the Apostles dealt directly and specifically with sin—sometimes in startling ways (see for example Matthew 16:23; Galatians 3:1ff). But clearly, the tenor of our Great Counselor’s ministry and that of His Apostles was one of compassion and love.

One of the ways your counselor will express these attitudes toward you is by taking your problems (and the misery associated with them) seriously. He will take you at your word, not assuming that he is the expert and you are naive—totally incapable of and unequipped to understand the exact nature of your problems without his expertise. Rather, he will express 1 Corinthians 13:7 love for you by believing the best about you (putting the best interpretation on the things you tell him until he has evidence to the contrary). This means you will have to be truthful with him, being careful not to conceal the necessary information he needs to make an accurate biblical diagnosis and to help you.

You should expect to receive a biblical interpretation of your problem.

Because your counselor is going to attempt to diagnose your problems biblically, (using biblical nomenclature: “And this is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom, but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words;” 1 Corinthians 2:13, Berean Study Bible), you may be presented with a different way of looking at them—especially if you have been to counselors who have been trained only in psychology.

For example, you will not find words such as “codependency,” “alcoholism,” “paranoia,” “OCD,” “passive aggressive” or even “nervous breakdown” in the Bible. God usually uses different language than man does to describe and categorize these and many other human behaviors. If we don’t recognize God’s way of understanding and classifying our problems, we will miss (be unable able to locate in the Bible) His solutions to those problems. Even His terminology for the non-material parts of man (the organs of the soul) are not the same as those typically found in secular psychology. Terms like “self-image,” “personality type,” “id,” “ego” and superego” lead people in the wrong direction when they try to pinpoint an accurate understanding of man and his problems.

Another benefit of using biblical language (especially if you have been a Christian for any length of time) is that you should be familiar with the diagnostic and therapeutic terms used by your counselor. And if you aren’t, your counselor will be able to help you understand them in language that not only makes sense, but that you can learn more about by studying your Bible.

In my next article, I will cover two or three more things for which you may look forward in the process of biblical counseling. If you would rather not wait until then, please secure your own copy of the booklet by clicking on one of the links below.

Buy from Amazon for $4.99

Buy from Nouthetic Media for $4.50

 

Jan 15

Relationship advice about Danger Signs

Guidance from Lou Priolo’s book Danger Signs of an Unhealthy Dating Relationship.

Danger Signs of an Unhealthy Dating Relationship

Oct 15

Good stuff about Resolving Conflict

Wisdom on Resolving Conflict from Lou’s new book.

The Beginner’s Guide to Conflict Resolution

Sep 24

Sin and Misery…Connecting the Dots

People do not always appreciate the fact that the pain they experience is often due to acting or thinking in ways that are out of harmony with Scripture. As a biblical counselor, therefore, you must understand the relationship between sin and misery.

Many of the over 250 secular counseling models would agree with the humanist manifesto which denies the existence of consequences for sin. But the Bible says “God is not mocked” and “whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” (Gal.6:7; cf. Eph. 4:18; Rom. 8:20; Lam. 3:39; Matt. 25:41; 2 Thess. 1:9). Read the rest of this entry »

Mar 15

Training Teens To “Open Up”

One of the most common communication difficulties we encounter in counseling is people who are passive rather than active in the communication process. That is, they sit passively by, expecting those with whom they are supposed to be conversing to take all of the initiative. Rather than volunteering all of the data necessary for the dialogue, these inactive individuals expect their counterparts to drag out of them all but the most basic information.

Revelation is a prerequisite to any relationship.

Have you ever stopped to consider that if it were not for the Bible (God’s revelation of Himself to man), we would not know enough about Him to be saved, let alone to have an intimate relationship with Him.  We might know through general revelation (that which may be generally known about God through His creation) that God exists, but it takes special revelation (the Bible) for us to know how to be saved, how to glorify Him, and how to enjoy fellowship with Him.  To the extent that God reveals Himself to you and me, we may have a relationship with Him. To the extent that we do not comprehend His revelation, our intimacy with Him will be adversely affected. Revelation is a prerequisite to having a relationship.

The same principle holds true in all relationships (cf. John 15:15). To the degree that two people reveal themselves to one another, they will experience relational intimacy. Since marriage (becoming one flesh) is the most intimate (the closest) of personal relationships, the revelation between spouses is to exceed the revelation of oneself to any other person (except the Lord, who knows us more intimately than we know ourselves; cf. Psalm 139: 1-6) .

But how important is the revelation of child to parent?

Someday, your teenager will be required to open up to that special someone to whom he or she has wed. He will have to “pull back the curtain” (that’s really what revelation means) of his heart and let another person see what’s inside. If he is in the habit of pulling the curtain open with his parents, who have a biblical need to know certain things that are going through his mind, he will be that much more prepared to do so with his wife (and your task of doing his premarital counseling will be that much easier).

Now, what about his current relationship to his parents? If you followers of Jesus Christ, you have been given the responsibility to bring him up “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Since the Bible (the source of that discipline and instruction) covers every area of life, to obey this passage properly, his parents must talk to him about all kinds of things-things that are easy to discuss and things that are difficult. More importantly, it is your responsibility to teach him not only how to act and speak like a Christian, but also how to think and reason like a Christian (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:11). This means that you will have to get into your counselee’s head (his heart) and that if he wants to cooperate with God’s program, he must let you have access to it. “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out” (Proverbs 20:5, ESV).

I would like to give three ways in which you may encourage your teenager to cooperate with this program. First, help them get used to the idea that you will sometimes have to ask personal questions. You might explain it something along these lines:

It’s our job to ask questions! They are the best means we have to get the information out of your heart. We are not being inordinately intrusive or curious; we are just trying to do what God has us them to do. So, when we ask you to open up, don’t let pride, selfishness, fear, impatience, or laziness cause you to lock down. Kindly avoid the shoulder shrug and the one-word retorts. Instead, try to be thankful for parents who love you, and answer their questions as sincerely (and as honestly) as you know how.

The next suggestion has to do with encouraging them to give you the information you need without having to ask for it. The operative word is “initiative.”

There is probably not a better way for you to earn our trust (and the freedom that comes with it) than to voluntarily give us the information we need to do our job. Please don’t wait for us to ask you why you are “feeling down,” or “not hungry,” or “not interested in going with us to wherever.” Don’t make us have to guess or interrogate you. Come to us. Tell us what’s bugging you. Let us see what’s inside. Open your heart to us. Ask for pour wisdom and prayers-maybe even for our help.

My final suggestion is to unpack 2 Corinthians 6:11-13 with them. Encourage them memorize the passage. Meditate on it yourself.

We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange-I speak as to my children-open wide your hearts also (NIV, emphasis added).

And please don’t forget to be a good model of someone who follows Paul’s example yourself-open up to your teens.

 


This article has been adapted from Lou’s new book Getting a Grip: The Heart of Anger Handbook for Teens, available from Calvary Press Publishing, http://www.calvarypress.com/home.asp.

 

Mar 15

What’s Got You Down?

The following article has been adapted from Chapter Six

of Lou’s book, Losing that Lovin’ Feeling.

by Lou Priolo

Why are you cast down, O my soul?  And why are you disquieted within me?  Hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God. (Psalm 43:5)

Depression is one of the most common reasons people come to see me for counseling. There are physiological as well as nonorganic causes for this condition.

The most basic cause of spiritual depression is living out of harmony with Scripture. However, to simply call something “sin” without identifying its exact biblical designation does not help us effectively treat the problem. Just as a physician can prescribe a specific antibiotic once he’s identified the exact strain of bacteria causing an infection, I hope to help you arrive at a more accurate diagnosis of and remedy for any functional (nonmedical) depression you may be experiencing.

Unrepentant Sin

The first category of sin that causes depression is unrepentant sin. By this, I mean any sin about which you feel guilty. Someone has likened guilt to the physical exhaustion that occurs when an individual exercises too long. Overexerting oneself during physical exercise will ultimately result in a temporary depletion of strength and vigor. Similarly, living day in and day out with guilt over sin that has not been confessed expends a certain amount of emotional energy. It saps your emotional strength and causes you to become “emotionally exhausted” (i.e. depressed). God didn’t design guilt to be something that His people were to live with for long periods of time. His intention is for us to confess our sin and forsake it. In so doing we experience both forgiveness through Christ and sanctification through the Holy Spirit. (These two provisions eliminate guilt.)             Appropriating God’s forgiveness removes the guilt of our past sins. Cooperating with Him in the sanctification process removes the guilt we sometimes experience due to the knowledge that we are bound by a particular sinful habit and will, therefore, likely commit the same sin tomorrow.

Certain sins, in addition to producing guilt, have other side effects that will sap emotional energy and produce depression. The greatest of these is bitterness. Bitterness (or resentment) is the result of an unwillingness to forgive those who have sinned against you. It requires emotional energy to maintain a grudge. Resentment, like guilt, will deplete your energy if allowed to reside in your heart too long. Painful emotions such as bitterness and guilt are God’s “smoke detectors” designed to call attention to a particular fire issue in our lives. They can’t be ignored without long-term damage to the body and soul. Other sins that drain our emotional energy (above and beyond any guilt they might cause) include anxiety, unrighteous anger, selfish fear, and jealousy.

Mental Attitude Sin

The next classification of nonorganic depression has to do with mental attitude sins. Perhaps the best way to categorize them is as wrong values. When people do not view life as God does, misery results.  As Christians, we must train ourselves to think as the Bible says we should think, to love the things He loves, to hate the things He hates, to long for the things He wants us to long for, and to not want the things He doesn’t want us to have. In other words, for us to be happy (the antithesis of being depressed), we must think and be motivated biblically.

Depression often occurs when people have sinful thoughts and motives. They think thoughts that God says they shouldn’t think. They fear the things He doesn’t want them to fear. They do not fear Him as much as He wants them to fear Him. They worry about things about which He says not to worry. They interpret circumstances in ways that do not reflect God’s sovereignty, love, or goodness. They are not thankful for His blessings. They want what God says they can’t have. They love what God says they shouldn’t love (or love too much what God has given them to enjoy in moderation). They value too highly things God doesn’t value highly (if at all). They don’t value the things He values most. Is it really any wonder that so many people in our society are depressed?

Mishandling Difficult Situations

The third cause of spiritual depression is mishandling difficult situations. God leads His children into a variety of trials designed to perfect their character and ultimately result in their happiness. But when they do not avail themselves of the resources He has given them to respond biblically to a trial, they can grow discouraged, bitter, guilt-ridden, anxious, and fearful. All of these can lead to depression. How we respond to the difficult circumstances God brings into our lives determines the extent to which we will be depressed about those circumstances. Be it physical illness, loss of employment, marital difficulties, broken relationships, or the death of a loved one, you can depend on the truth of Romans 12:28-29.

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son.”

Perhaps it’s time for you to ask yourself, as the psalmist did, “Why are you cast down, O my soul?  And why are you disquieted within me?” This question was meant be asked as a self-rebuke. “In light of God’s wonderful provisions, what right do you have to be despairing and troubled?” But may I suggest that you ask yourself this question more diagnostically, “why (for what reasons) am I discouraged and depressed?”

Mar 15

Torn Between Two Lovers?

by Lou Priolo

 

This is probably not the kind of article you would expect to find in this kind publication. It’s a piece aimed at trying to help people who have cheated on their spouses and who find themselves “in love” with two different people. Now I’m sure those of you who are not in this predicament will have absolutely no interest in this topic.

What? Oh, I see. You say that you have some friends who’ve been in this predicament and you want to read this article so that you might offer some hope and help to them.

Well all right. I suppose it wouldn’t hurt anything to have you follow along.

Now, to those of you are trying to gain control over romantic feelings for someone with whom you’ve cheated on your spouse let me assure you that there is hope for your situation.

Many unfaithful spouses I’ve helped over the past twenty years wondered two things:

1. “Can I ever get over these powerful feelings I have toward the other woman/man?”

2. “Will I ever be able to love my spouse with the same kind of intensity I have for the other person?”

If you are a Christian who is truly willing to do what the Bible says, the answer to both of these questions is yes.

When you met and married your spouse, you, in effect, opened up a lifetime savings account at a brand new bank: First National ___________ (insert the name of your spouse in the blank).  You soon began to make some rather large investments in her/his account.  You invested a good deal of time, effort, thought, money, and even your own body. You also placed in the safety deposit box of that bank many of your valuables along with the majority of your secret treasures. And for a while, perhaps a good long while, you were pleased with the interest you received on your investments.

Then, little by little, after becoming disillusioned with the returns you were receiving on your principal, you slowed down the frequency with which you deposited your assets. Perhaps you even stopped making new investments and simply tried to live off the interest for a while.

Then one day you received information quite unexpectedly about a brand new bank that had just opened a branch close to where you work (or golf, or play tennis): First Federal ___________ (insert the name of the other person to whom you gave your heart and/or body in the blank). This new bank promised to give you a much better return on your investments-especially in those areas where the other bank had disappointed you.

You began investigating all the additional perks that First Federal had to offer. The list seemed quite impressive. So, before you knew what you were doing (and before you counted the costs), you opened up a First Federal account-you signed on the dotted line without carefully reading the fine print. Little by little, you began making additional deposits in this new bank. It wasn’t long before you were taking your assets out of First National and moving them to First Federal. First National, on more than one occasion, brought to your attention the indisputable fact that your principal investment with them was dwindling considerably. Of course, you denied it and tried to shift the blame back to First National. But deep down in your heart, you knew who was really at fault.

For a while it helped to remind yourself that First National wasn’t quite as good a deal as you thought it would be when you opened up your first account with them. You had convinced yourself long ago that First National would probably never be able to provide you with the returns you were looking for.

But be that as it may, now you’re in a real quandary. It’s as Jesus said it would be, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:21). You now have investments in both banks, and consequently your heart is torn between the two of them-you have feelings for both persons.

So what are you going to do? If you want God’s best you will have to take two very important steps.

1. Totally close the account at First Federal.

2. Systematically redeposit every last investment that was made in First Federal back into First National.

You must completely end the adulterous affair. This other person must be told plainly that the relationship is over. If possible, ask for forgiveness (preferably on a conference call with your spouse or pastor on the line) for your selfishness and deceit.             There can be no continuing communication (no secret rendezvous, telephone calls, cards, letters, or E-mails). The other person should be told emphatically not to contact you anymore. You must be willing to amputate from your life anything that will tempt you to reopen this illegal bank account.

Jesus, after explaining to the disciples that lusting for a woman was, adultery of the heart, said this to His disciples:

 

If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to go into hell. (Matthew 5:29-30 NASB)

 

He told them they must remove anything from their lives that made them stumble into sin-even if it was something they cherished (cf. Eph 5: 29). Don’t keep any mementos, photographs, keepsakes, or other memorabilia that might tempt you to spend time thinking about (and fueling romantic feelings for) the other person. You may have to change your telephone number, E-mail address, or the route you take to and from the office. I’ve known several men and women who were even willing to give up their jobs in order to take this important step.

Having closed the illegal account, you must next begin the process of systematically transferring all of your assets back to the original bank. Exactly how much of your money, time, thoughts, dreams, affection, initiative, and creative energies did you invest in the other person’s account? They will all have to be reinvested with your spouse. Did you buy the other person gifts? Ask yourself, “What kind of gifts can I buy for my spouse?” Did you go on dates with the other person? Ask yourself, “Where can I take my spouse out for a date?” Did you call the other person from/at work? Ask, “When are the best times for me to surprise my spouse with a telephone call?” How many hours did you spend thinking about what you could do to please the other person? Spend that much time thinking about what you can do to adore and please your spouse. And perhaps most importantly, how much time did you spend revealing your heart to the other person and listening intently as she revealed her heart to you? Invest the same amount of time in the revelation process with your spouse. Are you willing to invest the effort and creativity necessary to make these kinds of redeposits? If you’re serious about obeying God, you will be willing to invest whatever it takes to repair your marriage. Like Zaccheus, (Luke 19:8-10) your willingness to make restitution will be an indication of the sincerity of your repentance.

If you want your feelings to change, you must begin to court your spouse as vigorously as you courted the other person. After they’ve changed, continue courting him “as long as you both shall live.”

“OK, I see what you are saying, but when I think of all those promises I made to the other person-for the most part with every intention of keeping them-I feel so guilty.”

The fact that you feel guilty is probably a good thing. It means you’ve not yet totally defiled your conscience. Not unlike a computer virus, your sin may have simply misprogrammed your conscience to believe that you owe the other person more than you really do. But you are more indebted to your spouse than you are to the other adulterer. You owe God even more than that. You may have made promises to the other person that you will have to break and for which you must ask forgiveness. But breaking your vow to God and lifetime covenant with your spouse will have further reaching consequences than breaking a rash promise to your adulterous lover (cf. Eccl. 5:1-7).

“But I can’t just abandon her. That wouldn’t be Christian!”

Closing the bank account is not abandonment. Your pastor or another biblical counselor is in a much better position to minister to the other person than you are. If you truly are concerned about the welfare of the other individual, turn him over to the care of a pastor or other biblical counselor. You are not qualified to help in this situation. The other person has also sinned, and may be in need of repentance. Don’t stand in the way of His divine discipline by trying to remove the culpability and consequences of his sin (cf. Heb. 12:1-11).

 

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:7-10)

 

If you are willing to take these two steps, then you will benefit from reading this book. If you are not willing, as much as is possible, to close First Federal and reinvest in First National, it is doubtful that you will ever fully “fall out of love” with your former lover. May God grant you the humility, courage and grace to make the right choice.

 

 

Mar 15

Helping People Overcome Worry

This article appeared in The Journal of Modern Ministry, Volume One, Issue One.  http://jofmm.com/

by Lou Priolo

Worry is the acceptable sin. Everybody does it-so how can it be that bad? Counselees often use terms to describe this problem that help them feel less culpable-words such as, nervousness, apprehension, distress, or uneasiness.  But God calls it sin.

Worry is a sin for several reasons.

1. God forbids worry. The Holy Spirit commands us in Philippians 4:6 to “be anxious for nothing.” Jesus said in Matthew 6:34, “Do not worry about tomorrow.”

2. Worry shows a lack of faith in God. “And why are you anxious about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin; yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory did not clothe himself like one of these. But if God so arrays the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more do so for you, O men of little faith? (Matt. 6:28-30 NASB emphasis added).”

3. Worry damages the body. “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are” (1 Cor. 3:16-17). Worry is known to cause such physiological effects as upset stomach, fatigue, diarrhea, high blood pressure, hives, hormonal changes, ulcers, irregularities and palpitations of the heart, and even heart attacks.

4. Worry wastes valuable time. We are commanded to “walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15-16). Worrying consumes an inordinate amount of time that could be better spent thinking about and doing those things that are eternally profitable.

What Is Worry?

Worrying is not the same as exercising foresight, preparing for the future, making plans, or taking appropriate precautions. All of these are biblically-legitimate activities.

What, then, is worry?

1.  Worry is a good emotion (concern) focused on the wrong day.

Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own (Matt. 6:34 NASB).

It is one thing to be concerned about a problem you are facing. It is quite another to be worried about how that concern may adversely affect you at some point in the future. It’s fine to determine how you are going to deal with your concerns or to develop a God-honoring plan to keep potential adversity from happening. It’s wrong to anxiously focus your attention today on what may go wrong in the future, as though the Lord were not going to provide for or protect you.

2.  Worry is experiencing unnecessary distress in the face of imaginary

suffering.

Worry is fear in the absence of actual danger. It is overestimating the possibility of danger and magnifying the degree of potential adversity. Worry is often accompanied by imaginary pessimistic and foreboding outcomes that have been distorted beyond all likelihood.

One of the most common manifestations of this kind of worry is what I call false prophecies:

“I just know I’m going to have a panic attack when I see all those people.”

“I’ll go crazy if I have to spend the rest of my life by myself.”

“My wife is going to get killed in a car crash if she visits her parents for the weekend.”

“I’ll never convince the human resources director to hire me.”

“There’s no way I’ll be able to handle the responsibilities of motherhood.”

“I won’t be able to adequately provide for my family.”

“I just know that I’m going to fall out of the chair lift!”

I sometimes remind my counselees, “You’re not a prophet, so stop making prophecies. If you’re going to speculate about the future, you ought to do so with biblical hope.”

3.   Worry is anticipating future suffering without anticipating the grace

God has promised to those who suffer.

Worry is thinking about your future as though God will not be there to take care of you. One of the most common manifestations of this kind of worry is what I like to call despairing prophecies.

“I could never face anything like that.”

“I would be devastated if . . .”

“I would just die if . . .”

“I wouldn’t be able to handle anything like that.”

“I would be shattered if . . .”

“That would be a tragedy.”

“That would be unbearable.”

“That would be the most awful, horrible, terrible, unbearable, catastrophic calamity that could ever happen to me!”

There was something in Paul’s life that caused him considerable distress and for which he prayed three times that God would remove. God said no. So rather than worrying about how this “thorn in the flesh” was going to adversely affect him, he relied on God to provide him with all the grace he would ever need to see him through it. Paul even boasted about how God would be glorified through his infirmities rather than fretting about how they would mess up his future.

Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me (2 Cor. 12:8-9).

4.   Worry is the by-product of an undisciplined mind.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind (2 Tim. 1:7 emphasis added).

The Greek term for sound mind in this passage has to do with self-control-especially in one’s thoughts, decisions, and judgments. The term may be rendered as “to have right thoughts about what one should do” or “to let one’s mind guide one’s body.” Defeating fear is a matter of learning how to control one’s thoughts. That’s where the Anxiety Journal comes in.

This powerful biblically-based tool is something you can use to help worriers bring their thoughts under the Spirit’s control. It has been more effective in the long run, safer, and in many cases faster acting than any antianxiety medication on the market. Its components are prescribed in the fourth chapter of Philippians.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your          requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.  Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy–meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. (Phil. 4:6-9).

Biblical Praying

There are three ingredients to this antidote for anxiety. The first is biblical praying (verses 6 and 7).

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

This is not your run-of-the-mill kind of prayer.  It is highly specialized. In fact, Paul uses three different words for prayer in this prescription. They are prayer, supplication, and requests. Prayer is the most frequently used New Testament word for this activity. Supplication is a more specific term for prayer about something one urgently needs. Request has to do with the details pertaining to one’s supplication.

This prayer also contains one of the key components for conquering worry. It’s the phrase “with thanksgiving.” Your counselee’s prayers must not simply contain petitions for what he needs or wants. They must also include expressions of thankfulness to God.

I’d like to suggest three areas of thanksgiving-or perhaps it’s better to say three tenses of thanksgiving.

1. The Past. For what can I thank God concerning previous answers

to similar prayers?

2. The Present. What is there in these present circumstances for

which I can thank Him?

3. The Future. How can I thank Him for what He might be doing in

the future?

Biblical Thinking

The second stage of our anti-anxiety treatment is biblical thinking. Take a close look at verse 8.

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy–meditate on these things.

To knock out despair, your worrier must change his cognition. To turn down those intensely disturbing feelings, he must rearrange his thought patterns. To overcome fear and worry, he will have to discipline his mind. He will have to replace his anxious thoughts with thoughts that reflect biblical hope. He will have to replace thoughts that are theologically inaccurate with ones that are accurate, especially when it comes to how he thinks about God. His fears about the future that are unrealistic must be replaced with “whatsoever things are true” (i.e., things that conform to reality).

Let’s reconstruct a few of those false prophecies we looked at earlier.

“I just know I’m going to have a panic attack when I see all those people.”

Wouldn’t it be more biblical to think something like this? “The Lord promises to give me all the grace I need to respond appropriately to any contingency.” Or, perhaps something like this might be appropriate. “If I have a `panic attack,’ I’ll just have to have one. This is my parents’ anniversary (or similar event where the counselee’s attendance is nonoptional), and I’m not going to selfishly allow my fear of having a panic attack keep me from honoring them.”

“I’ll go crazy if I have to spend the rest of my life by myself.”

Wouldn’t it be more accurate to think, “I’m more likely to go crazy if I don’t learn how to get my anxiety under control. To live the rest of my life by myself is not a sin. To make an idol out of being married is.” Or how about this angle? “I’d rather want what I don’t have than have what I don’t want-a marriage that is not God’s best for me.”

“My wife is going to get killed in a car crash if she visits her parents for the weekend.”

How’s this for a biblical alternative? “My loving, omnipotent, sovereign Heavenly Father is able to protect  her from harm.”  Or, maybe something like this reminder would help. “The Lord has protected her many times before in answer to prayer.” Would this approach do well with your counselee? “I will not allow my selfishness to keep her from enjoying herself.” Possibly this one will get to the heart of the matter. “The Lord is the one who gave my wife to me. If He chooses to take her from me, then He will sufficiently supply all my needs as He always has.”

The possibilities are really endless. When it comes to rearranging our thought patterns, there truly is “more than one way to skin a cat” biblically. The more Scripture your counselee includes in his amended thought patterns, the more potent his spiritual tranquilizer will be. If practiced consistently, the process of changing thoughts from anxiety-oriented propositions to thoughts containing biblical truth should produce remarkable results in a relatively short period of time.

Biblical Action

If your counselee wants to conquer anxiety, it will not be enough for him to simply pray and meditate. As Paul explains in verse nine, he must do certain things as well.

“The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.”

I’m going to suggest two categories of biblical actions that are helpful in knocking out anxiety. The first has to do with the anxiety itself. Any direct biblical action that can be taken to help prevent what is being worried about from occurring will qualify. The question to ask is, “What can I do (what actions can I take today) to keep what I’m worried about from happening tomorrow?” These actions include such things as studying what the Bible says about the particular concern, getting godly counsel, or formulating a biblical plan of action to solve the potential problem.

Rather than worrying about how he is going to cut down the entire forest, encourage the worrier to determine how may trees the Lord would want him to chop down “today.” Tomorrow is another day with another section of trees to cut. “Do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt. 6:34 NASB). If each day he prayerfully plans to axe a limited number of trees, the worrier will find it possible to address his concerns without anxiety. He may even discover that the Lord has been on the other side of the forest bulldozing trees down much faster than he ever could.

The second kind of action that can be taken to thwart worry has to do with getting one’s mind off the worry and onto more profitable things. Is there any biblical action the counselee can take that will indirectly help by temporarily replacing anxious thoughts with thoughts that are more God-honoring and productive? How can he engage his mind with wholesome activities such as fulfilling his daily responsibilities, reading a good book, or listening to uplifting music? Even a game of tennis or golf could force him to think about something more pleasing to God than worry.

To help your worrier become more proficient in using this antianxiety treatment, teach him to use an Anxiety Journal. The Anxiety Journal is a worksheet on which the counselee can work out his anxieties in written form according to Philippians 4:6-9.  The directions are given in the second person to facilitate its use by photocopy machine.

After thoroughly unpacking Philippians 4:6-9 to the counselee, encourage him to do an Anxiety Journal for every anxious thought that he cannot dislodge from his mind quickly (say, five minutes or less). If time is short, encourage him to write down only his anxious thoughts in a small portable notebook at the moment they occur. Then ask him to fill out the Anxiety Journal later that day or the next (maybe during his personal Bible study time).

Review the counselee’s Anxiety Journal with him weekly in session. Be sure he is filling out the worksheet correctly and completely. Look for theological inaccuracies. Help him see additional items that can be added to his prayer, his thoughts (don’t forget to reinforce these with Scripture passages), and his action list. The goal is to train him to respond biblically by using this hard copy (the journal) until his entire response to anxiety producing circumstances becomes habitual. Don’t be surprised if you see an immediate decrease in the number of journals your counselee brings in week after week. This probably means he’s growing. Don’t be surprised either if you find that helping others with this project helps you to knock out some of your own worry.

Directions For Using the Anxiety Journal

An Anxiety Journal is a worksheet on which you can work out your anxieties in written form according to Philippians 4:6-9:  “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.  Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy–meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.

Photocopy as many journal pages as you think you’ll need in a given two-week period. If all goes well, the frequency of your anxieties will diminish so you’ll use fewer copies in subsequent weeks.

At the top of each sheet, underneath the words  “My Anxiety (what I am concerned about),” describe the exact nature of your anxiety in the first person (e.g., “I’m afraid that if I go to the shopping mall, I’ll have a panic attack.”).

Underneath the words “Biblical Prayer,” write out your personal prayer. Be as specific as possible with your requests. Most importantly, express thankfulness to God for as many things as you can-especially those things that are connected to your concern. (Remember to thank in terms of past, present, and future.)

Underneath the words “Biblical Thoughts,” write out how you are going to think about your concern so as not to worry. Reconstruct your thought patterns to reflect biblical hope and theological accuracy, especially when it comes to trusting in God’s sovereignty and goodness, and His other Fatherly attributes. Use Philippians 4:8 as a guideline. Your reconstructed thoughts do not have to be a verbatim quotation from Scripture. A personalized application of a biblical principle or directive will do nicely.             Write down the appropriate Scripture references next to each thought for future study, meditation, and/or memorization.

Underneath the words “Biblical Actions,” write out the specific action you can take that will either address each concern on a day-by-day basis or focus your mind on more noble matters. The two questions to ask yourself are, “What can I do (what actions can I take today) to keep what I’m worried about from happening tomorrow?” and “What can I do (what actions can I take at this moment) that will engage my mind with more profitable thoughts than worry?”

Anxiety Journal

My Anxiety (what I am concerned about) ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Biblical Prayer ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Biblical Thoughts

r

r

r

r

Biblical Actions

r

r

r

r